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You may be aware of the looming fuel crisis. You might even have considered the problem with domestic robots today. But a little article by Marshall Brain (http://marshallbrain.com/robotic-nation.htm) linked on today's Slashdot has raised an old fear of mine: When everyone has plenty of leisure time because robots are doing all the jobs, how will we pay for our drinks?

Counterpoints to In defense of robot domination
(see also "atomic-powered killbots from planet x")

As in the Animatrix The Second Renaissance, and Player Piano, robot slaves, even if built for the purpose and unable to feel discontent with their role, have the same drawbacks as factory automation - they affect the economy.

Utopia fundamentals
  • you don't have to work
  • you get all the food and things you want for free
  • you are free for artistic or intellectual or bacchian pursuits
  • this applies to everyone, or at least everyone you know, or at least yourself
  • the hope is that the robots do all the work

    Capitalist society fundamentals
  • if you don't work, you don't get paid
  • if you don't have money, you can't buy food
  • or other goods
  • the harder you work, the more you earn
  • This is at odds with utopia. Only the owner of the robots would earn the money for the work they do.

    Automation leads to unemployment, or at least lower wealth
  • robots perform menial jobs quickly and precisely, which could and probably used to be performed by humans
  • lower wages (slave wages) can counter lower cost of automated production
  • Even the factory owner is in competition with other automated factories and has to sell cheaper by cutting costs and making minimal profit

    Wealth holdovers
  • previous assets, wealth, patents, holdings
  • intellectual property
  • artistic work (actors, celebrities, designers) continue to have value, until robot intelligence and design algorithms can suffice
  • next generation of robot designers and robot support services
  • all this is still a minority of the populace
  • Classes (rich/poor) become sharply divided again? Room for the "middle class"?
  • real estate (cost varies with size, and proximity to nice things)

    Cheaper goods
  • Goods can be produced more cheaply
  • Prices can drop
  • Reverse of inflation is deflation
  • Wages also drop - due to the competition problem
  • convergence of goods prices and labour wages to zero
  • restraining factor is maintenance cost and energy cost of competing robot
  • food production may be harder to make cheaper, as plant growing time is still a constant

    Socialist governments
  • communism might succeed this time
  • wealth can no longer come from taxes
  • government-owned robot factories supply populace with essentials for free (like welfare or food stamps)
  • government makes money by exporting robot-produced goods (if necessary), keeps economy strong
  • side-effect: government has large robot army to keep unemployed populace in line

    What do you do all day in Utopia?
  • contribute to issues in online socialist government forum
  • design or perform
  • add value to the system in some way.
  • Value could replace money. Respect becomes currency
  • Value is tracked electronically like Amazon.com rating stars. See Cory Doctorow's "Down and out in the Magic Kingdom" (craphound.com) for a story based in such a universe.

    "Why the future doesn't need us", Bill Joy, Wired 8.04, April 2000, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy_pr.html quotes The Unabomber's Manifesto to good effect.
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